Why I am running for Portland Community College Board

Why I am running for Portland Community College Board

Courtney Wilton

By Courtney Wilton of Portland, Oregon. Courtney is a current PCC board member running for election this spring.

My name is Courtney Wilton and I'm a member of the Portland Community College Board of Directors. I represent Southeast Portland and am running for election this spring. If you didn't know that I completely understand. The college and its daily works are off the radar for most folks as they worry about things like public safety and street fees. Yet, despite its low profile pretty much everyone agrees what PCC does is extremely important.

What does Portland Community College do? The short answer is a lot of vital things. For starters, it provides high quality college transfer credits to local residents at a fraction of the four year university cost. PCC also delivers vocational training to people who need a job and don't have the luxury or interest in waiting four years to get it. It further provides opportunities for a lot of people who are vulnerable ' high school students who have dropped out or are simply not thriving in the traditional K-12 model, recently laid off forty-something factory workers who desperately need retraining, and a myriad of other people with great promise and work ethics, but not much else. In 2008, local taxpayers gave a nod to PCC's importance by approving a $374 million bond request. Thanks to their generosity the college has recently been able to expand workforce training, upgrade numerous classrooms and technology, and add more space for students. The 'more space for students' includes a major expansion of the Southeast Portland campus on SE 82nd Avenue and Division, a game changer addition to the neighborhood.

Why do I want to continue my role on the Board? Because I understand the importance of what Portland Community Colleges does and am dedicated to do what I can to make it even better. Board positions like PCC's are on a volunteer basis. Members' compensation for countless hours and commitment is the satisfaction of hopefully strengthening a crucial public institution. And, that's fine with me. A long time ago my parents and oldest sister came to Oregon with very little. My parents had no education past high school, no US citizenship and not much money. But they worked extremely hard, were very determined, fortunate and ultimately succeeded. Because of their foresight and the sacrifices they made, my sisters and my lives have been virtual cakewalks in comparison.

Community College students remind me a lot of my parents. They are determined and investing huge amounts of time and money in hopes of fulfilling a better future for themselves. They are betting PCC is a good investment. Yet, education is definitely a leap of faith, now more than ever given its increasing cost and tough job market. But the idea that if you work hard and persevere you will be rewarded is fundamental to who we are as Americans. It's in part what differentiates us from other countries where lineage or political connections determine your fate rather than effort and merit. So, I'm afraid we can't disappoint these students. We must hold up our end of the deal. That means PCC must succeed, or students who put their trust in it will not.

Did I tell you I had opposition? I do, and they are impressive. One, Michael Sonnleitner, is a member of the PCC faculty, a PhD and Fulbright scholar. The other, Anita Yap, has won awards for her extensive community involvement. I like them both and admire their commitment to public service and courage for running. My background is a bit more mundane. I've spent most of my career in public finance, currently as CFO for Energy Trust of Oregon, and before that in financial, operational and human resources management roles at Clackamas Community College and David Douglas School District. Before that I worked as a CPA. I understand how government operates, I'm thrifty and have a pretty good feel for anything financial. That's a helpful skill in these times and a dimension that I believe brings value to the Board.

What's most encouraging to me is that this May voters will get to choose among three interesting candidates for a seat that normally goes unopposed. Perhaps that will lead to more discussion about PCC and its crucial role? Conceivably PCC's low profile, and the role of community colleges in general might even be elevated a little? I certainly hope so. The successful candidate will ultimately join the current Board of dedicated individuals who I have been proud to serve with this past year and have the opportunity to provide leadership to an exceptionally dedicated faculty and administration. Portland Community College, and the community it supports deserves nothing less.

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